Another guitar drill for intermediate players

This was inspired by one of Steve Stine’s Lessonface videos. He gives some good drills that I also came up with independently, which proves that Mr. Stine is a super special genius guy.

Most of the time when you’re meandering, you want to stick with the different modes of the major/minor pentatonic scales. Aside from keeping you safe from accidentally hitting a dissonant harmony on a target note, these should be about 95% of the notes you’re using in between target notes. Taking the C major scale as an example, the two notes that aren’t in the pentatonic scales (F and B) have a very sharp affect and need to be used sparingly, and very carefully if you’re improvising.

They won’t cause any problems if they are used as passing notes, as long as you don’t let them ring for very long. (Luckily, this happens to also tell you which chords/arpeggios might create too much tension at the wrong time, if you’re into that sort of thing. This would be any chord/arpeggio that contains one of the two dangerous notes.) These guidelines hold up for most music styles.

So here’s the drill:

Like in the meandering drill above (video in the link), practice these shapes as two-note hammer-ons and pull-offs moving between E strings in one of the positions. Using position two in the figure as an example (this happens to be E minor pentatonic), you would travel up and down like so:


This is the part where I’m supposed to say to use a metronome. Bah! Just turn on a medium-tempo song you know pretty well and try to keep time. You’ll practice more if it’s fun. Make sure you’re in the right key too so you don’t mangle your musical ear.

By training yourself to range these patterns with hammer-ons and pull-offs, you can actually free up a lot of attention that would otherwise be spent picking each note. There is also greater potential to raise the speed, work trills into improv, or just sit back and enjoy the legato sounds. With a little bit of practice learning to traverse these shapes without thinking, you’ll be surprised at the extra perspective and freedom this legato style gives you. It’s like when I first started alternate picking on Guitar Hero instead of downpicking: the music seemed to slow down to 50%- practically crawling. But it still sounded good, and I started having more fun.

I sometimes catch myself falling back on alternate picking during this drill because it’s more comfortable. It’s obviously important to be able to do both, but I think legato movements should be your default for at least a year. It’s like learning to dribble with your left hand that way- until it’s as strong as the right hand, you practice with the left as much as possible (80-90% of the time).

Once you’ve got this down, you can start doing three-note hammer-ons and pull-offs by adding in the remaining notes of the scale as passing notes. Just be sure to keep in mind where it’s safe to land.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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